The tiny oil-rich Asian nation of Brunei has banned all public Christmas celebrations, from tree lighting to the donning of Santa hats, and threatened offenders with up to five years in prison, reported SMH.

In fear the religious holiday will affect the faith of its country, the super-rich ruler Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has banned the public celebration of Christmas.

Any Muslims caught celebrating Christmas, and non-Muslims who are discovered organising celebrations could face the lengthy prison sentence.

Non-Muslims have been allowed to celebrate the holiday within their own communities, but, they must not disclose their plans to the nation’s Muslims – which make up 65 per cent of the 420,000-strong population.

“These enforcement measures are … intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community,” the Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement explaining the edict that was published in the Brunei Times.

The statement said non-Muslims disclosing or displaying Christmas celebrations violated the penal code which prohibits propagating religion other than Islam to a Muslim.

The Borneo Bulletin quotes imams saying in a Friday sermon that lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings and putting up decorations are against the religious faith.

“Some may think that it is a frivolous matter and should not be brought up as an issue,” the imams are quoted as saying.

“But as Muslims … we must keep it (following other religions’ celebrations) away as it could affect our Islamic faith,” they said.

Before Christmas, last year officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs visited businesses and asked owners to remove Christmas decorations and to stop staff wearing Santa Claus hats and clothes.

While Brunei’s rulers do not enforce the harsh Islamic orthodoxies of countries like Saudi Arabia, including sanctions for women do not wear headscarves, the country’s wealthiest Sultan last year ordered the introduction of Sharia law.

The announcement was met by boycotts and protests at Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s hotels in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

The laws, which include harsh punishments such as the slicing off of hands and feet for theft and whipping for adultery, were supposed to be implemented over three years, but their introduction has been delayed, the Sydney Morning Herald adds.